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BY TERRY KOSDROSKY

The business world evolves at a rapid pace. Michigan Ross evolves right along with it and even helps shape it. If you haven’t been back here in a while, you might be surprised at how Ross has changed.

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Greg Barntsen, MBA ’06, is a frequent return visitor to Michigan Ross. As Procter & Gamble’s North America Crest brand manager, he’s recruited a number of students from his alma mater.

He likes that Ross still holds the core values that drew him there in the first place. But what he truly appreciates -- as an alumnus and recruiter -- is how the school continues to up its game in a rapidly shifting business world.

“Ross has always known what it stood for as a business school,” says Barntsen. “As a student I was really drawn to the leadership development and action-based learning. I think it’s stayed true to those things but gotten even better at it. I see it becoming more global with a sense of social responsibility.”

There’s no doubt Ross has changed and grown both inside and out over the past several years. New degree programs, more global opportunities, new curricula and courses, more action learning, and modern learning spaces are all part of preparing students not just for the world today, but the world 20 years from now.


A Clear Mission and Vision

The next generation of business leaders is the most diverse generation in history. Millennials have had different life experiences -- witnessing the 2008 financial crisis, for example -- and as such have different ways of defining career success.

They want work to have meaning and they don’t want to check their personal values at the office door. That means careers with both profit and impact.

For those reasons and more, Ross’ mission -- to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world -- is incredibly meaningful and appealing to them. The school’s strategic focus on analytic rigor, action-based learning, a boundaryless view of education, and positive business resonates with this new generation.

Ross also is committed to inclusion, diversity, and empowerment. The school established the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to advance and foster a dynamic culture and positive community. In fact, Ross is a recipient of the prestigious 2015 Insight Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award – a national recognition honoring colleges and universities that exhibit outstanding efforts and success in diversity and inclusion.


New, Expanded, and Revitalized Degree Programs

Each generation has different expectations of business school. At the same time, educators have to ensure graduates have the tools to set them up for success. That’s what drove actions at Ross such as the new BBA curriculum, a Minor in Business, the new Master of Management Program, changes to the MBA curriculum, and new courses.

The undergraduate scene at Ross is growing and evolving. The newest class in the BBA Program numbers 580 students in seven sections, making a total of 1,784 active BBA students at Ross. And there are now two paths to the program -- preferred admission for high school seniors, as well as the traditional path from current U-M students who enter after their freshman year.

And there’s a new curriculum for those students. Known as MERGE (Multidisciplinary Exploration and Rigorous Guided Education), it’s designed to meet the needs of millennials who want a challenging curriculum combined with hands-on learning and the leadership skills to tackle big questions.

Specifically, MERGE puts a focus on the role of business in society, makes action-based learning a key part of the curriculum, offers more global experiences, and gives seniors a “capstone” experience to integrate and apply their education. For example, the new BA 200 class, Businesses and Leaders: The Positive Differences, explores the competing tensions of how business practices and leadership impact organizational performance as well as broader social outcomes across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

“We’re particularly excited about the changes to the Ross BBA,” says Claire Preisser, associate director of the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, which runs a consortium of schools dedicated to rethinking undergraduate business education. “The introductory Businesses and Leaders course grounds students by providing a nuanced understanding of the fundamental purpose of the firm. Oddly, this is a notion that often isn’t explicitly examined in a business school.”

Undergraduates across U-M can also have a part of this experience with the Minor in Business. It’s a way for students in any field of study to learn some core business concepts.

Another way Ross helps propel careers is though the Master of Management Program, launched in 2014. This intensive, one-year program gives students with undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts, sciences, or engineering a solid foundation in business principles. Ross MM students also participate in tailored, hands-on career workshops.

“We want them to learn business skills as they enhance their professional presence,” says Amy Dittmar, senior associate dean for graduate programs. “We work with the MM students at all levels of career and leadership development to help them be more marketable in the workplace and become leaders in their chosen careers.”

The Master of Accounting Program (MAcc), another opportunity for students who want a Ross graduate education right after an undergraduate degree, is also expanding, growing to two cohorts for fall 2015, while the Executive MBA Program added a Los Angeles cohort in 2012.

Ross’ flagship Full-Time MBA Program has seen a few changes of its own, designed to make it a more customized experience. It includes more support for core course waivers in all areas, increased integration among core courses, greater connections between the core courses and MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Projects), and a periodic review of the curriculum to ensure a more personal tailoring of the MBA experience.

With new business practices come new, relevant courses. An example of this is Professor Amitabh Sinha’s Big Data Management: Tools and Techniques class, first taught in winter 2015. The big data explosion in industry and academia led Sinha to develop the class (a lab course), which was born from a successful independent study.

“This class covers two of the same topics from the independent study: visualization and databases. I also decided to teach coding in Python,” Sinha says. “Coding ability is highly valued in the market. This is the kind of stuff that's often done in social media marketing analysis, and my students were very proud of the fact that they were able to do this with six weeks of learning, many of them starting from scratch.”

An undergraduate version of the course will be offered in winter 2016 and taught by Professor Hila Etzion.

All of these changes are aligned with Ross’ mission and areas of strategic focus, and all are aimed at giving Ross students the best education possible. They continue to ensure that a degree from Ross is highly valued in the job market.

“In my time as dean, I’ve worked to make Ross a place where students can safely test the concepts and ideas that will help them become lifelong learners and innovators – those skills will be essential for future success in a world where jobs and careers are changing rapidly,” says Dean Alison Davis-Blake. “It also means we as educators need to constantly reflect on our effectiveness and refocus where necessary.”


Major Growth in Global Outreach and Education

One difference between job candidates today and when Andy Ho, MBA ’05, graduated from Ross, is an even stronger appetite for international opportunities.

“When I was recruited there was less emphasis on international opportunities. Now it’s one of the top three factors,” says Ho, a principal at consulting giant Deloitte who recruits at Ross. “They want to experience the full spectrum of international opportunities that a company has to offer. And it makes sense because that’s how business operates now. There are no borders. Nobody cares if you’re U.S.-based or not. If you have a product or service that’s hot now, that’s all that matters. It’s a huge driver of how my clients think and how we have to recruit.”

Ross students don’t have to wait for a job to have global experiences -- and the opportunities are growing by leaps and bounds.

For example, undergraduate global experiences went from 96 in 2011 to 329 in 2014. MBA global experiences outside the Multidisciplinary Action Projects program went from 91 to 141 in the same period. In 2015, 65 percent of students worked on a MAP project outside their home country.

Recently Ross and U-M partnered with Shanghai Jiao Tong University to offer a Shanghai cohort of the Master of Management Program. This partnership builds on Ross’ longtime presence in the region through its Executive Education office in Hong Kong. All told, Ross partners with about 40 international business schools to provide a variety of experiences for Ross students around the world. And more partnerships with Chinese schools will be implemented in the near future.

Ross’ reach in India continues to grow through the C.K. Prahalad Initiative, which carries on the legacy of the late Ross professor and international business guru. The initiative focuses on research that generates innovations, new products, and business models for consumers at the base of the global economic pyramid. For example, Prahalad MAP partners with organizations around the world to provide students field experiences that address the relationship between profit generation and social value creation.

Ross’ global presence is getting so vast, in fact, that Dean Davis-Blake created the position of associate dean of Global Initiatives.

“International experience is critical for business today, so students want and deserve the opportunity for international learning experiences,” says Professor M.S. Krishnan, the current associate dean for Global Initiatives.  “From an educational perspective, there’s so much value in applying classroom knowledge in new settings that challenge your perspectives.”


Vibrant Centers and Institutes

While global reach is critical, so is intellectual reach. “Boundaryless” is embedded in the Ross culture, and this means reaching across disciplines and across the U-M campus. Complex problems aren’t solved by staying in defined silos.

The centers and institutes at Ross are the intellectual hubs where students and faculty from different backgrounds can focus on topics of societal importance -- sustainability, entrepreneurship, operations management, positive business, leadership, and more. For example, MBAs and engineering students work on industry projects together through the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, and students from all over campus pitch their startups at events sponsored by the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

“The past five years have seen two important growth trends,” says Wally Hopp, senior associate dean of faculty and research. “First, all the Ross centers and institutes have created a ‘three leg’ approach to their missions, which emphasizes education, research, outreach, and the synergies between these. Second, more of our students are working on practice-oriented research projects in industry that enhance their educational experiences and fuel research on issues important to business leaders.”

Three of Ross’ newest centers -- the Center for Positive Organizations, the Sanger Leadership Center, and the Center for Social Impact -- all have added meaningful and relevant elements for Ross students.

The Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) is a world-class research center that brings transformational research and experiences with practices that build positive organizations to students and business leaders. In 2011, Terry Adderley, BBA '55/MBA '56, fundamentally changed the course of CPO with his commitment of a $1 million gift. As a result of his generosity, the center greatly increased its programming and network.  

The Sanger Leadership Center ensures Ross students have the character, capabilities, and connections to drive real change and innovation in the world. Launched in early 2015 thanks to a $20 million gift from Stephen W., MBA ’70, and Karen Sanger, the center expands the school’s successful leadership development programming. The Sanger Leadership Center is a resource for Ross students and provides them with personalized feedback, coaching, and development. The center will also be a resource for Ross faculty to develop cutting-edge ideas and new leadership practices.

The Center for Social Impact combines the power of business and the nonprofit world by providing students support and opportunities to design a pathway to become social impact leaders. Students in the center’s programs collaborate with mission-driven organizations across sectors to develop innovative solutions to pressing social challenges.


Action-Based Learning at Every Level

The growth of practice-oriented projects is part of Ross’ leadership in action-based learning. The signature MAP course for MBAs has grown in sponsors and international presence. Since 1992, students have completed 1,845 projects in 93 countries with 1,292 sponsors.

But action-based learning goes far beyond MAP.

In 2009 the Social Venture Fund became the first student-run impact fund. It invests in companies that put emphasis on a social mission as well as profits. And $10 million of a recent $60 million gift from the Zell Family Foundation (see related story) is earmarked for a new fund that will invest in student business ventures.

The Impact Challenge sponsored by the Sanger Leadership Center -- a fast-paced, weeklong program for Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA students in which they develop viable business ideas that also have a positive impact on the city of Detroit -- has been expanded to also engage Weekend/Evening MBA, Global MBA, and Master of Management students. This year’s Master of Accounting Program students will participate in an Impact Challenge for the first time.

The Desai Accelerator -- a joint venture between Ross and U-M’s College of Engineering funded by the Desai Family Foundation and the Davidson Foundation -- provides physical space, financial resources, and mentorship to support early-stage ventures.

Real-world experiences also are growing in the BBA Program. Capstone courses challenge undergraduates to apply their entire Ross education to practice in a number of ways -- with a consulting team, as a financial analyst, or by evaluating investments. The Carson Scholars program puts BBAs in Washington, D.C., to learn firsthand how business and government interact.

 


Learning and Leadership for a Lifetime

Another idea taking root is Ross becoming your education partner for life. The school now offers all Ross graduates -- bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate -- free, unlimited enrollment in Ross Executive Education as part of the new Alumni Advantage program. It’s a way for alumni to continue to develop skills in leadership, general management, and the management of critical human resources as they move through different stages in their careers.

Ross Executive Education also is building true business partnerships with companies all over the world. Through custom programs, faculty develop specific solutions for clients. It has helped organizations all over the world develop and retain the talent within.

"We are redefining what it means to be a Ross alum,” says Scott DeRue, associate dean for Executive Education. “You trust us with your education, and in return, we invest in you for a lifetime. No other business school in the world is as committed to its alumni as the Ross School of Business, and it is our honor to serve those who have given so much to our school.”

The continual evolution of the Ross School of Business shows Michigan Ross is leading in every way -- from creating the best student experience, to expanding thought leadership, to developing a world of “leaders and best.” This ensures a lifetime of value for Ross alumni.